story and photos by Tim Hailey (with material from press releases)
Persistent rain showers forced NHRA officials to cancel the majority of Saturday’s qualifying for the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA SpringNationals at Royal Purple Raceway. The only racing of the day in the NHRA Mello Yello Series included one round of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying and 12 Pro Stock cars made an attempt before the rain became steady in the afternoon.
In Pro Stock Motorcycle, Hector Arana Jr. secured his second consecutive No. 1 qualifying position of the season and 12th of his career with a run of 6.876 at 195.39 on his Lucas Oil Buell. He will face Shawn Gann in the first round of eliminations as he goes for his third straight win of the season. “I do have a lot of confidence after winning those two races,” Arana Jr. said. “Right now, I don’t feel as tense as I normally would. I’m very relaxed and that makes riding a lot easier. I was hoping to improve in the third session but we missed the tune-up a bit. We were really looking forward to the last run because we wanted to get some data. The weather also changed and all that rain will make the track tighten up.”
Scotty Pollacheck qualified second and will race Chip Ellis, while third place qualifier Andrew Hines will try to win his fourth consecutive title at this event as he takes on teammate and defending world champ Eddie Krawiec in a very rare all-Screamin’ Eagle Vance & Hines Harley-Davidson first round match up.
Mike Castellana will start the third of 10 Pro Mod events in the series as the No. 1 qualifier in his Al-Anabi Racing ’68 Camaro when eliminations begin on Sunday. His 5.880 second pass at 244.56 mph was good enough to claim his second No. 1 qualifying position of the season and the sixth of his career. His first round opponent will be Jeffrey Cummins Jr.
Points leader Von Smith qualified eighth and will face defending series champion Troy Coughlin in his JEGS.com Corvette. Danny Rowe will drive his Agave Underground Tequila Pro Mod in a first round meeting with Chip King.
Doug Kalitta claimed his third No. 1 qualifying position of the year in Top Fuel with his Friday run of 3.791 seconds at 321.65 mph in his Mac Tools dragster. This is his third No. 1 qualifying position at Royal Purple Raceway and he will face Troy Buff in the opening round as he tries to earn his first win since the 2010 season and his second at the facility.“This is our third low qualifier and now we can see if we can hopefully get to the final and deliver a win,” Kalitta said. “This rain will clean the track off and that should change our set-up a bit. I’m sure the track will be good but I can tell you that we probably won’t be the first pair out. We have a good car and I would have liked to see what we could have done today but we’re solidly in the field and so are all of our team cars so we didn’t have to deal with [the possibility of not qualifying]. We’re ready to go.”
Points leader Tony Schumacher qualified 14th and will face Shawn Langdon in the opening round. Antron Brown, currently second in points, will race Bob Vandergriff in the first round. Rookie Brittany Force failed to qualify for eliminations for the first time.
In Funny Car, Cruz Pedregon raced his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry to his third No. 1 qualifying position on the strength of his 4.086 second pass at 310.41 mph on Friday. Pedregon has two career wins and nine No. 1 qualifying positions at Royal Purple Raceway. He will face Terry Haddock in the first round of eliminations. “When I heard them say nine number ones in Houston, that stands out,” Pedregon said. “ I just wish we had that many wins here. When I got up in the morning and saw that the forecast was for about 30 to 40 percent, I thought that this would be no big deal. But it ended up being 100 percent later in the day, and that was it. Running under the cloud cover would have been ideal for us. I think you would have seen a 4.06 or a 4.07.”
Notable first round matchups include Don Schumacher Racing teammates Matt Hagan and Ron Capps squaring off in their Dodge Chargers. Hagan currently leads the Funny Car points with Capps lurking in fifth. Courtney Force and Alexis DeJoria will go head-to-head for the third time in their careers, while No. 2 qualifier Tim Wilkerson will meet versatile Del Worsham in another pivotal opening round matchup.
In Pro Stock, Jeg Coughlin took his first No. 1 position in two years by powering his JEGS.com / Mopar Dodge Avenger to a performance of 6.569 at 211.20 to claim his 18th No. 1 qualifying position of his career. His first round opponent will be Steve Kent as Coughlin looks for his fifth career win at the facility.
“I think this speaks volumes about the operation of Roy and Allen Johnson, which we decided to team up with at the end of last year,” Coughlin said. “We communicate with them very well, along with Vincent Nobile, who also uses Roy Johnson engines, and to be number one in qualifying for the first time in two years is just fantastic.”
Current points leader Mike Edwards, who came into this event riding a five-race No. 1 qualifying streak, qualified third and will face Greg Stanfield in the opening round of eliminations. Houston area natives Erica Enders-Stevens and Rodger Brogdon both qualified. Enders-Stevens will race Larry Morgan, while Brogdon will take on defending world champ Allen Johnson in the first round.
EARLIER: Arana Jr Still Hot in Houston
Hector Arana Jr continued his hot start to the season by racing to the top spot of Pro Stock Motorcycle qualifying on Day 1 at the O’Reilly Auto Parts NHRA Nationals at Royal Purple Raceway near Houston. He has won the first two events of the season and if his 6.876 pass at 195.39 stays No. 1 it would be the 12th of his career and his first at Royal Purple Raceway, named for one of his sponsor’s competitors. “We’re doing so well so far this season that I just want to keep that momentum going and stay on top as long as I can,” said Arana Jr. “I like this track. This is where I qualified for the first time and got my first round win against my father. Last year, I also made my first final round so I like it here.
“The track was not bad at all today,” Arana continued. “It was a little warmer than it has been anywhere else this year but we still made good runs. Tomorrow, I hope to improve. I’m sure some guys will get close, but if we run in the morning and the weather is cool, I should run quicker.”
LE Tonglet has struggled so far this season but clocked in Friday at #2 on his Suzuki. Sovereign/Star Racing teammates Scotty Pollacheck and Michael Ray and 3 and 4, with Hector’s younger brother Adam in 5th.
Two-time Funny Car world champion Cruz Pedregon has one win this season along with one No. 1 qualifying position and is second in points. On Friday he raced to the top of the qualifying order in his Snap-on Tools Toyota Camry Funny Car with a leading performance of 4.086 seconds at 310.41 mph. “This run was really good for us because we broke a couple of rods [on a 4.70 176.76 mph pass] in the first session,” Pedregon said. “It was a flawless pass that really set me back in the seat right at the hit of the throttle. It really pulled hard all the way through, and I knew it was a good pass. But we weren’t trying to knock it out of the park, and or goal was just to keep all eight cylinders lit all the way to the finish line. I honestly would have been happy with a 4.12 or a 4.13. So we were really thrilled with the 4.08.”
Pedregon has eight career No. 1 qualifying positions at the track, but knows that keeping it for eliminations on Sunday could be a tall order. “Houston has always been a fast track, but our cars are making a lot more power than they used to, and we’re also getting used to some new parts and new tune-up ideas that we’re trying,” Pedregon continued. “And as good as the 4.08 run was, I think that if we have a cloud cover tomorrow, some of the other drivers like Johnny Gray or Courtney (Force) could pop a 4.07. So we have our work cut out for us on Saturday.”
Mike Castellana powered his Al-Anabi Racing ’68 Camaro to the No. 1 qualifying position in the NHRA Pro Mod Drag Racing Series. His pass of 5.880 seconds at 244.56 mph paced the 16-car field in the popular 250-mph doorslammer touring series. Danny Rowe is currently qualified second at 5.930 at 246.53 in his Agave Underground Tequila Pro Mod. Mike Janis raced his K100 Fuel Treatment Camaro to the third position with a pass of 5.960 seconds at 244.25, while points leader Von Smith qualified eighth at 5.979 at 248.71.
Doug Kalitta raced his Mac Tools Top Fuel dragster to the qualifying lead during a wild second session which saw the top spot change seven times during the course of qualifying. Kalitta was in the final pair of cars and posted a run of 3.791 seconds at 321.65 mph to take the lead into the final day of qualifying on Saturday. “The conditions were right and we made a good run and had the quick time of the day,” said Kalitta. “I actually think Jim O [Oberhofer, crew chief] was trying to run a 3.77, but we settled for a 3.79. I’m happy and I’m really proud of my guys.”
Kalitta has two No. 1 qualifying positions so far this season, but has yet to capitalize on them for a win. He has one career win at Royal Purple Raceway and is hoping to add another to his 32 career wins total. “I think the chances are good that it will stay,” Kalitta said. “It should warm up tomorrow and I think mid-3.8s will be good, but you never know with these guys. The competition is this class is so good. We’ve been doing well lately, but we really need to turn that into a win on Sunday.”
Jeg Coughlin, a four-time Pro Stock world champion, raced his JEGS.com / Mopar Dodge Avenger to the No. 1 position with a performance of 6.569 at 211.20. Coughlin has 17 career No. 1 qualifying positions in his career but hasn’t posted one since the 2010 season. “Roy [Johnson, engine builder] was pleased with the performance of the car, and the crew chiefs [Mark Ingersoll and Jim Yates] were very happy,” said Coughlin. “The temperatures might be a little warmer tomorrow, which will be in our favor, but we’ll still have to peck away at it if we want to stay No. 1.”